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Savagery of ‘Vanga Vanga party’

Updated on: 06 December,2023 04:48 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Mayank Shekhar |

Loving the endless commentary around Animal. Only fear is ascribing causal effect to a film

Savagery of ‘Vanga Vanga party’

A still from Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s action film Animal

Mayank ShekharFirstly, why are animals used as adjective to describe the worst ways that humans can behave? It’s like how Indians, when the situation in our country is tanking, start comparing it to banana republics (of Central America). Hello, look at where we are. 

As far as I know, other animals are predators for food alone, and usually shun gluttony once hunger is satiated. They also rarely attack their own species. On both counts, human behaviour seems more ferocious, morally inferior.

The reference to ‘animal’—in Hyderabad-based Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s blockbuster by that title—is perhaps to imagine a modern world, with veneer of a civilization, but filled with male hunter-gatherers. 

Laws don’t apply. Deaths aren’t accounted for. Empathy is nearabout zero. Women are largely muted. Meeker men have as little say. 

At the centre of this mayhem is Macho Man Ranbir Savage, i.e. Ranbir Kapoor, as the narcissistic, entitled hero, prone to unlimited bloodlust—in order to save his father (Anil Kapoor), from a bunch of similar predators. 

That’s the motivation, it seems. Also, an inter-generational trauma over revenge and greed, like Gangs of Wasseypur, if you really wanna.  There are some daddy issues over a neglected son. None of which sufficiently come together as the film progresses. 

You realise they’re merely excuses for some classily scaled/packaged comical violence. The genre itself is particularly common in the Telugu over-the-top universe. The twisted gore, though, is chiefly inspired by the birth of Korean cool. 

One man’s violence is another man’s action film, full of spectacle/set-pieces. Either way, these are cheap ‘thrills’ designed for audiences to release hormones (cortisol, adrenaline), before a flickering big screen. Often, for the same reason, some feel exhausted, since nothing exceeds like excess. 

Speaking of father, son, Ranbir is son of star-actor Rishi Kapoor (1952-2020), who used to famously bemoan how he was the right man, in the wrong times.

Rishi began his career as a teenaged lover-boy at 21, with Bobby (1973), which is the same year that birthed Amitabh Bachchan’s rebellious ‘angry young man’ with Zanjeer. Setting off a decade of non-stop action films, with Bachchan mainly fighting the system/establishment. 

Mainstream Hindi cinema turned softer in the ’90s, when Rishi was but fading as the suitably romantic star, in crew neck sweaters, with geometric prints. He was in his 40s. That era belonged to Shah Rukh, Salman, Aamir Khan.

With Animal, the transformation of Ranbir, 41—as the ‘chocolate boy’, perennially coming of age, into a crackerjack, massy action star, with thick body mass, thicker beard, convincingly setting the world on fire—is so complete, it seems unmatched by anyone in his generation.

Foremost, Ranbir’s nothing like the stars (Salman, in particular) who, with age, naturally graduated to this scene, from the ’90s. Neither is the film. 

To my mind, that was Animal’s primary intention. You sense it all the more with Vanga’s homoerotic nods to his hero, descending to a strange obsession with male genitalia. 

He walks around with an insane swagger, wholly submitting to his director’s worldview. In the same way that he has with other filmmakers, almost playing their writerly doppelgangers on screen (Karan Johar: Ae Dil Hai Mushkil; Ayan Mukerji: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Wake Up Sid; Imtiaz Ali: Rockstar, Tamasha, etc).

The stellar trailer suitably gave away this refreshing transformation. Audiences dropped in. Often, it’s as simple as that. Whether they loved the film equally is not something a ticket sold registers. 

Demonstration effect of growing box-office numbers suggests more will flock in still. 

What did those around me make of this blockbuster? The same as they did with Vanga’s debut Arjun Reddy (2017) in Telugu, remade as Kabir Singh (2019) in Hindi. Totally polarised views online, which is how algorithms incentivise opinions on social media, anyway.

The lead character is inherently misogynist. Are men in real life not? They are. But should they be glorified on screen? No, but do the women have any agency at all? Perhaps, but who’re these vulgar, sexist men, and why is this okay… 

The best take is, unsurprisingly, from my favourite social commentator, Santosh Desai, where he mulls over Animal (and other similar super-hits) as the “anger of the strong”, reflecting male insecurity and India’s majoritarian impulses. 

Yup, it’s legit to decode/discuss what somebody has made, so long as we don’t tell them what they should. Vanga has a voice. So do you. You don’t have to agree. Neither does he.  

And I’ve enjoyed endlessly scrolling conversations over a 202-minute movie, offering identification to catharsis, fear to disgust. This chatter-starter is any communicator’s dream. Tickets are the bonus.

My limited worry in all of this when we ascribe causal effects, or even multiplier effects, to movies—wherein the conversation goes from treating poor art as entertainment for entertainment’s sake, at one end, to something that altogether changes society, at the other. If anything, society’s worse; at any rate, less comical. 

Does Animal stimulate primal instincts in an overawed audience? As much as Jawan (2023) helps make better choices in elections, or Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani (2023) inspires progressive gender attitudes. 

Both hit the spot at the box-office, to varying degrees. There is some accounting for taste, none for the audience’s range. Of course, can’t watch Animal again. Let’s leave it at that! 

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14
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